RZA & Paul Banks Talk New Album And Songs You Can Smoke To
Who would think a friendly game of chess would result in a collaboration between two artists belonging to two completely different genres? And yet, that’s exactly what happened with Interpol’s Paul Banks and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, who have joined forces to become “Banks & Steelz.”
Banks and RZA—pillars of the indie rock and hip-hop genres, respectively—first began collaborating in 2013, citing Warner Bros Records as the catalyst for their happy union. And while fusing indie rock and hip-hop is certainly not a novel concept (remember the 1986 hit “Walk This Way”?), it is refreshing to see two talented artists with a genuine, irrepressible, and inimitable connection in today’s feud-filled music world. And we imagine it will feel even more refreshing once their forthcoming album, Anything But Words, is released. Featuring killer artists such as Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine, Kool Keith, the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and Masta Killa, the album is set to release on August 26th.
Fresh off the heels of their debut live performance at iconic LA venue, The Roxy, we caught up with the duo to chat movies, Florence Welch, and the song they’d like you to smoke to.
So obviously you guys have a lot on your plate at the moment. Is there anything you guys turn to, to sort of take the edge off?
RZA: Well, we’re done with studio work. Lately after press, I’ve been watching movies.
Seen any good ones lately?
PB: Well, I’ve watched all of Stranger Things. That was good. For a binge watch, it’s great. I saw Star Trek.
RZA: I saw Tarzan.
That movie was really good.
RZA: It was cool, right?
PB: Oh, I saw Finding Dory. I loved that. That was great. [Laughs]
“We didn’t have some blueprint of like, ‘This is how we fuse indie with rap.'”
Since you each come from different musical backgrounds, did that pose any challenges for Anything But Words?
PB: I mean, it didn’t really feel like a challenge. It wasn’t forced concepts that we tried to execute. We started off kind of jamming and then we came up with some cool songs that became a demo and then we got a record deal. And from there on out, anything that was piquing both of our interests to pursue musically, that’s where we went. It wasn’t like we had to fulfill some preconceived idea of what we were going to do. We didn’t have some blueprint of like, ‘This is how we fuse indie with rap’ at all. It was like, ‘Let’s work on this song and do the vocal idea or rap or here’s a guitar part or a beat,’ and we just went from there based on what our interests were.
RZA: If you want to say challenge, the only challenge would have been schedules.
Did you have any expectations going into this?
PB: Whenever I work on music, the expectation and the hope is to make something dope. Then I think as an artist you have your own ability to edit yourself and critique yourself. So, if something isn’t working you just don’t do it.
RZA: We went into it clean slated, you know—a couple of guys comfortable with each other’s company and making music together. So, write songs. I think it’s evident in the project you can hear the synergy of the music, but yet each song stands for its own.
By the way, I love “Giant.” I saw the music video yesterday.
PB: We’re very involved with our videos—strong opinions throughout.
Was a storyboard pitched to you or did you guys come up with the concept for the video?
PB: With “Love and War”, our first video, we were kind of involved with the concept and definitely the execution. With “Giant,” I think we kind of signed up to do a performance-based video. We thought it would be cool to show us delivering a song rather than just being characters in a video.
Looking back, is there one moment you can remember where you were both realized you should work together?
PB: When we met… we talked a little about music—I’m a big Wu-Tang fan. We talked about chess and we got together and played some chess. Then, we decided to get together and jam long before a record deal [was] on the horizon. So we jammed and then out of that jam we got those demos. There wasn’t so much an “a-ha” moment as much as after we jammed, we kind of had something. I guess it was almost Warner [Bros Records] that provided the a-ha moment. We knew what we were liking when we were hearing it, but when the record company heard two songs and said, “Go make a record,” that was sort of the a-ha they gave us.
RZA, what do you most admire about Paul?
RZA: First of all, he has great music sensibility. And second is his dedication and determination in the studio to get the job done. You know, some musicians, maybe after four hours, they run out of gas. After 12 hours, Paul still has gas.
Wow. And Paul, your turn.
PB: RZA’s a legendary producer of some of the most influential and important hip-hop ever made. It was cool to be able to collaborate and see some of that producer intelligence and knowledge he implemented. I definitely learned things about mixing and producing from watching RZA work on this project. There’s a lot, but I really respect him as a person and musician.
“For the last song on the album (“Point of View”) I want people to know that it’s okay to smoke to that song.”
One of the collaborations that I’m super stoked about is the one with Florence Welch for “Wild Season.” How did that collab come about?
PB: We knew we were looking to get a female vocalist on the record and “Wild Season” was one of the ones we were thinking about. Her name had come up and then I met her after an Interpol show actually in Ireland. She was super sweet. We hit it off and exchanged contact info. So, I circled back and sent her “Wild Season.” She loved the track and then the rest is history. We talked about it a little bit. She sent her lyrics over. We talked about those and she just delivered her vocal performance, which was amazing. The only note that we gave her back after that was, “Please sing more,” and she did. That’s how we got what we got.
Awesome! And any last thoughts you want to get out there?
RZA: Yeah. For the last song on the album (“Point of View”) I want people to know that it’s okay to smoke to that song.
Photos taken exclusively for Milk by Alex Lee.
Art direction by Kathryn Chadason.
Stay tuned to Milk for more epic mind melds.